Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Perils of Living a Double Life

It is Wednesday, and time then for our weekly journey through the ‘papal examen’, the Pope’s Christmas talk to the Roman Curia that is such a good examination of conscience for all of us. We are now at disease number eight of fifteen, which is:

The disease of existential schizophrenia. This is the disease of those who live a double life, the fruit of that hypocrisy typical of the mediocre and of a progressive spiritual emptiness which no doctorates or academic titles can fill.

It is a disease which often strikes those who abandon pastoral service and restrict themselves to bureaucratic matters, thus losing contact with reality, with concrete people. In this way they create their own parallel world, where they set aside all that they teach with severity to others and begin to live a hidden and often dissolute life. For this most serious disease conversion is most urgent and indeed indispensable (cf. Lk 15:11-32).

Clearly we are in serious territory here. Hypocrisy is the great charge levelled by those who are not religious against religious people. It is perhaps a bit over-done sometimes; after all, hardly anyone completely lives up to the tenets and high moral standards of what they believe, and it is not ‘hypocrisy’ to simply be a struggling sinner. Hypocrisy enters in when one puts on an outward show of virtue or claims holiness for oneself while living something very different. Nevertheless, it is an accusation not without some truth.

We have to be vigilant. I say I believe ‘x’. Why am I doing ‘y’, which is inconsistent with that? The Pope is referring to, I gather, very real corruption and dissolute lifestyles that can and possibly do exist in high places in the Church; I will not comment on that, neither knowing about it nor considering that this is any of my or your business.

But on a lower level, this is a problem which can and at least incipiently does afflict all of us. Toleration of habitual sin in ourselves, for example, is the beginnings of this existential schizophrenia. A ‘double life’ for me may not mean that I’m secretly keeping a wife and three children in a suburb of Toronto (I’m not), but it may mean that there are small corners of my life that I have simply reserved as the personal property of Fr. Denis Lemieux, and in which poverty, chastity, and obedience are not welcome. It can be small things, insidious things, perhaps not even things that rise to the level of sin per se, but nonetheless have that quality of doubleness, of duplicity.

We say we believe in Jesus Christ. This statement of faith calls us to a radical belonging to Christ, a radical submission to His Word. To say I believe in Christ but then turn and say ‘But I won’t forgive the person who hurt me!’ or ‘But I won’t take the lowest place’ or ‘But I won’t acknowledge Him before men’ (or any other direct flouting of the precepts of the Gospel) is to live in a perilous state of  “mediocre and progressive spiritual emptiness,” as the Holy Father so pithily puts it.

Well, it’s Lent, isn’t it? Good time to review all these matters and make some changes. I think there are few of us who could say with a straight face that we always and everywhere live out our faith by doing exactly what the Lord Jesus commands us in His Gospel. And those who do—well, you are the saints of God, so please pray for us struggling sinners, eh?

And really, let’s pray for one another in this. There is a terrible hampering of the Church’s evangelical work in this. People, when they look at how Catholics live, cannot tell that there’s any great difference between them and anyone else. This must not be. The Gospel is so radical that, if we say we believe it and are even trying to live it, our lives should look different, don’t you think? We should at least be puzzling to people, don’t you think?

Let us pray for one another, and above all let us ask the Lord to make us more faithful to Him and live with a deeper integrity, a deeper purity of heart, seeking to please God and not ourselves or others in all things.

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